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Internet governance: the next steps
Internet governance is a major challenge both for private and public stakeholders. The latter are encouraged to be more involved insofar as Internet governance is among the public policy priorities put forward by the European Union (EU).
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 18 June 2009 - Internet governance: the next steps [COM(2009) 277 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
This Communication gives details of existing Internet governance systems and future action in this field.
Internet: architecture and operation
Internet stems from the world of academia and research. Originally, governance was established on a closed model, carried out by engineers and scientists.
Over time, the architecture has gradually opened up, to the benefit of new stakeholders and individual users.
The Internet is now based on an open architecture which is neutral and distributed. This structure constitutes an advantage in terms of security since any localised failure is less likely to interfere with traffic elsewhere.
The private sector has been in the forefront since the Internet began. It provides the investment, expertise and entrepreneurial initiative which foster innovation. The private sector operates most of the international backbone infrastructure, the national cable networks, and provides services that facilitate and manage traffic.
The IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), a private body, has developed certain technical rules for the functioning of the Internet. RIPE NCC, another private entity, is responsible for assigning IP addresses at regional level.
The role of governments
Given the increasing role of the Internet in society, it is important that governments play a more active role in its development process.
The financial crisis of October 2008 has also changed public attitudes towards the concept of self-regulation. The public now aspires to more involvement on the part of public authorities in promoting the public interest.
However, the private sector must continue to play its role with regard to the daily management and development of the Internet.
The role of the European Union (EU)
The EU has been at the forefront of the discussions on Internet governance, particularly at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) between 2003 and 2005.
The EU was also a leading actor in the international discussions which contributed to setting up the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
The EU also highlights the importance of bridging the ‘digital divide’ and taking into account the interests of users in developing countries in Internet governance arrangements.
The EU puts forward the following key principles concerning Internet governance:
- the core architecture should be respected;
- the private sector should retain a leading role;
- there should be multi-stakeholder participation;
- governments should participate more actively;
- inclusion should be a basic principle.
Assigning Internet names and addresses
The coordination of resources with regard to names and addresses is a key element in the functioning of the Internet. Originally, the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) was responsible for assigning Internet names and addresses.
Given the development of the Internet, the American government decided, in the late 1990s, to contract some of the services provided by IANA from ICANN. This organisation operates according to the principle of self-regulation, whilst being responsible to the international community.
The American government agreement with ICANN ended in 2006, replaced by the JPA (Joint Project Agreement (pdf ).
ICANN succeeded in maintaining the stability of the Domain Name System for ten years and encouraged a participative decision-making process. However, some criticisms were made concerning its lack of representativeness and its monopolistic tendencies.
The next steps
The Commission encourages international partners to promote intergovernmental cooperation and dialogue in order to implement public policy principles in cooperation with the EU.
ICANN is also encouraged to complete its internal reforms in order to improve its transparency. It is, moreover, necessary that multilateral accountability should apply to ICANN.
Internet governance is an absolute priority in terms of public policy. The EU has a leading role to play since it includes nearly 19 % of the world’s Internet users.
This summary is for information only. It is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document, which remains the only binding legal text.